A Day in Kilifi - In Honour of International Women's' Day

by: Sara on 03/08/2019

In honour of International Women’s Day, we thought we would share some words from our Publishing Director, Sue Custance on her trip to East Africa last year. She started her journey one year ago on International Women’s Day, travelling from Vancouver to Nairobi. Here is a taste of “A day in Kilifi”.

I’ve been unpacked from my 4-week trip to East Africa for almost a month now but I am still unpacking, reflecting, and processing that amazing journey. The scenery, the animals, and especially the people are all so beautiful. Africa gets under your skin and into your heart like no other place I have been.

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Sue with Mariamu

One incredible piece of my journey was being able to spend time with my sponsored child, Mariamu, and her family in Kilifi, Kenya. I have only been sponsoring Mariamu through Plan Canada’s “Because I am a Girl” campaign  for about a year now, so having the opportunity to meet her and her family in person was what I hoped would be an incredible start to our friendship.

I arrived in Malindi to a heat and humidity that had not been present in Nairobi (or the mountains of Uganda and Rwanda), where I had previously been travelling. And at almost 6 feet tall, blond(ish) and red-faced by nature, I was possibly the least inconspicuous woman in Africa. Add the heat and humidity, and I was the sweatiest, beet-red, woman these folks had ever likely set eyes on! Nevermind that Mariamu had never seen a Mzungu (white person, or pink, as in my case) in all her 8 years of life!

Kilifi is on the east side of Kenya, and is home to about 1.2 million people It is one of the poorest areas in Kenya, with a poverty rate of 72%; it also has a very high child population rate where nearly 50% are children under age 14. Most residents are small-scale and subsistence farmers that have struggled in recent years with climate change, drought, and the noticeable changes to the rainy season, with the delay of the rains, affecting their crops, their livestock, and their access to food.

When we arrived at the homestead, we were greeted by Mariamu (who had stayed home from school for the special occasion) and her three younger brothers, their smiling grandmother, father Katoi, and Rebecca, the community worker and her baby son. Upon introduction, Mariamu was very shy of me, of course.

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The homestead

Her mother, Chizi, followed soon after returning with jugs of water, which is piped into their community but still approximately a 40-minute round-trip walk to retrieve it.

They toured me around their homestead which was quite a large property. There were a couple of bamboo and mud huts; one with a thatched roof that was occupied by the Grandmother (Mama), and the main hut with corrugated tin roof and earth floors. There was also a separate pit latrine, and their garden, which survives without water when the rains are not feeding it. In such a dry climate, they mostly grow drought-resistant crops like  tubers (potatoes & cassava) and maize. They were drying the maize over an open fire in Mama’s hut while I was there.

After the tour of the property, we sat down and Richard (my translator and guide from Plan) suggested I tell them about myself. I began by telling them that I live in a semi-rural area in Canada, on an island called Gabriola on the west coast of British Columbia, I explained that we are a community of around 4,000 people, and that our family grows some of our food and we have a few chickens. Richard translates, and they nod and smile. Maybe we aren’t so different afterall?

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The whole family together

I then move on to explain why I wanted to sponsor Mariamu. I was surprised to find myself getting choked up as I shared my story of being a single mother for 10 years and raising my two children, a boy and a girl,who are now young adults and who I tried to raise equally. I also explain that we were not wealthy people (as Richard had told me earlier that everyone in Kenya believes that all Mzungas are rich). And I spoke openly of our struggles as a young family.

After our tour of the homestead and my introductions, they graciously served tea and buns under the much-appreciated shade of their mango tree. Maraimu’s 2 older brothers came home from school for lunch, so I was able to meet them, as well as Katoi’s brother Pastor Joseph and his wife.

Before my departure, I hugged Chizi, Katoi and Grandma (Mama) warmly, even a hug from Mariamu, and many high fives with the older boys. I felt a genuine connection to them and graciously thanked them for welcoming me into their lives.

Asante Sana my friends. Kwaheri.

Gender equality is an issue I have always been passionate about, and I hoped my contribution to Mariamu made a difference in her life, even just a little bit, as well as to her community. And after meeting her and the changemakers at Plan, I truly believe it does. Globally, 130 million girls are denied schooling, and I am proud to help Mariamu get an education. She loves school and says she would like to be a teacher one day.

When I got home from Africa, I watched a webinar put on by Plan, partly in response to the “I am a girl campaign” entitled: What about the Boys? It was very interesting, and the main point was not that we are leaving the boys out, quite the opposite; we need boys and men to be a part of the dialogue, to work beside women toward gender equality. We all need to stand together and have our voices heard.

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Mariamu skipping with her brothers

Compassion and love were key characteristics that I wanted to instill in my children when raising them, and now that they are grown and I have a little more money, I wanted to extend that out into the world, where girls aren't as valued as boys.

We have a long way to go in that regard, according to that recent webinar held by Plan -- 170 years at the current pace we are moving. But I believe compassion and love can go a long way in that journey. I met many strong men in Kenya, and had fascinating conversations. Men who are standing beside women, helping give them that voice. It gave me hope for a more equitable, compassionate world. Through honest, genuine dialogue and the sharing of our stories (mixed with some humour and the ability to laugh at ourselves), perhaps we can get there...not only equality for men and women but for the planet and all its inhabitants.




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